What Do Your Characters Want?

I’m in the midst of the Revision Cave*, and the other day I remembered some very wise words from my professor, the fabulous Leslie Pietrzyk**:

In every story and every scene, think about what your characters want. Even the minor ones. What do they want? Even if it’s just “a glass of water” (her famous example), use that as the motivation for everything they do. Tension will naturally arise from your characters’ desires interacting and conflicting with each other.

If you’re like me, when you first hear any advice like this, you think, “Another thing to keep in mind? As if my brain wasn’t already supersaturated with craft and grammar?”

But then you think about it (again, if you’re like me), and then you’re all, “Well, if someone said it, it’s really important!”

Then you think some more, and then, “This is great advice!”

And then you get overwhelmed again because there is so much to remember when writing stories!!

And then you remember, “Oh yeah! That’s what revisions are for! And critique partners! And beta readers!”

And then you get a little glum because you realize this process takes a LONG TIME.

But it’s fun, yes?

Anyhow, I digress. (Digress? How about tangent city?)

I have found when I keep this in mind, not only does it add to and improve the tension in my story and each scene, but it also helps flesh out characters. We should know ALL of our characters inside and out, not just the protag or the LI or the antag. (If you feel overwhelmed, see the above process.)

What’s some great advice you’ve been given over your writing career?

**Yes, I’ve sung Leslie’s praises before. AND I WILL NEVER STOP!

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I write speculative fiction inspired by mythos from around the world, complex family dynamics, and my own experiences living with mental illness. After earning my BA in Linguistics from Brigham Young University in 2008, I received my MFA in Creative Writing from Converse College in 2012. I live in Denver, where my husband and I spend countless hours chasing our three young sons (and sometimes catching them!). I collect tarot decks, dye my hair mermaid colors, and procrastinate by decorating my home. My debut novel, Feathers Sharp as Knives, releases on May 2, 2023.

3 thoughts on “What Do Your Characters Want?

  1. Your writing cave is beeeautiful! :)

    I agree that there are always SO many things to keep in mind with each scene… It can be overwhelming. But definitely character motivations should stick at the top of the list.

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